Okay so what’ve you heard? I’ve heard Freddie (sounding convincingly like he was trying to convince himself that England would win) saying England will win. I’ve heard saddish news (which may or may not be *important*) about The Rhino. I’ve read a zillion ‘head-to-heads’ or low-downs or updates or ‘inside-the-camp’ briefings so like you, my dear sagacious friends, #Ashes-wise, I could barely be wiser. And yet…
I love that we’re all clue-less. Or if not clueless then pasting up the photofits from twelve different crime-scenes. I wallow in the anticipation – contingent as it is on striving to know. I *live off* the hilarious earnestness of our building up and deconstructing. I smile at the kooky/quirky/pompous/belligerent/mindless genius of it all.
Don’t you? Surely this pre-comp festival of hunch and cod-psychology is essential to the enjoyment of the thing – this very particular thing? Throw in the spice – the low-burning, barely understood Empire v Banished Reprobate animosity – lace with alcoholically-fuelled #bantz and the thing stirs itself nicely. Nicely into a frenzy.
This is a proper rivalry. Hence the piquancy and the obsession around lapses or choreographed ‘dips’ into sledging. (How much energy has already been expended by both camps and both sets of supporters on the import or otherwise of verbals, by the way?!? Record-breaking levels of talk about talk.)
I’ve pontificated elsewhere on this site about some concerns I have about bitterness undermining the event but promise to refrain again from mentioning the SOC words. Sledging cannot affect this match more than about 2% either way… and if you’re wondering why that figure well… I just made it up. As part of my *rationale*.
Look let’s get real. This time around, Australia are right into comic-book machismo mode. Replete with tattooed quickies and objectionably feisty fronter-upper/upper-cutter. Johnson – having been woeful last time in Cardiff – has morphed into He Who Must Be Feared and Warner has filled out as a batsman but inevitably failed or more likely chosen not to grow up.
So us Poms/Taffs can’t stand him, for a start. And we will relish the opportunity to guffaw passionately at any ill-luck that might come, with v-flicking relish, Warner’s way. Smith and to a lesser extent Clarke may feel like key wickets but when Warner cops it he’ll get a Valleys Welcome back to the pavilion. People get that he’s at the apex of feeling between the teams and that he likes being there; Australians will fist-pump every four emphatically dispatched and yeh… the locals will give him a welcome.
There is therefore an argument that Warner is ‘what the Ashes is all about’. Let’s go past that.
Johnson, arguably in contrast, has changed and developed, becoming, a symbol of the Australian (great word alert!) attack… and of the scarily brutal soul it wants /needs to project. He has rebuilt himself, much to his credit, from the wayward slinger whom I saw at Cardiff last time.
Then he was sharp but almost embarrassingly off-target. I watched from behind that arm as he floundered; my central memory is simply that he was fortunate not to concede more wides. Now Johnson runs in with more things pumping vertically and levers alarmingly and consistently violently where he wants to lever. He’s been arguably The Force in world bowling over the last two years; fair play to him.
We know there is scar tissue in the England camp following MJ’s assault on their senses in recent encounters. (Poor loves.) But the possibility that this really may be a new England provides us with exhilarating scope to cobble deliciously daft theories on the consequences of the advent of 21st Century thinking within ECB.
Could the ‘freeing up’ of the limited over squad and the ‘refreshing new outlook’ of England Cricket generally undermine Johnson’s spell over them willowy Poms? Could the Express Yourself mentality get England past that rabbit-in-headlights-with-feet-planted-in-concrete blockage; that fear of the man? Could those without the scar tissue stand up? And what’s Broad gonna do – run?!? The Mitchell Johnson howitzer-moment(s) will be worth the entry fee alone: he may have something to say with the bat too.
As I write I can only surmise that Wood will get a slot in the England bowling line-up but I hope he does. He may not disturb the peace of the Australian top end but he will offer a little variety, a little surprise even, which I suspect England may need. Plus there’s something profoundly pleasing about seeing some bloke bowl bloody lively off a run-up from within the same county. Plus I like horses.
For Wood, many would argue Rashid. In the sense that he is something new and offers something new. He may be high-risk; he may get flailed mercilessly around the park; he may ‘simply not be ready for it’. Who knows? But he represents something bold and recently that boldness did change the momentum around the England side both on and off the pitch; remarkably so.
Whether Rashid plays in Cardiff or not, pretty much the only universally-accepted fact in world history seems to be that he should have got a game or two in the West Indies. And that may or may not count for anything.
Let’s get back to the quickies – or in England’s case, the reasonably quickies. If there is no major help for the seamers from conditions (and if there is this may play right into Starc/Johnson and co, yes?) Anderson and Broad will need to really find something. Weirdly, like Johnson you can’t help wondering if they’re just beyond this. Or beyond their best. Will the uniqueness of the Ashes challenge – all that wild, magnificent, centrifugal, focusing/disorienting force! – reinvent England’s senior pairing? Or will the Aussies simply be too proficient? Too skilled at batting?
Broad and Anderson’s commitment is unlikely to be in question but they are known quantities; I wonder then, that much may fall on the emotive capabilities of the management team around them. Bayliss and Farbrace, I’m imagining, may need the Churchillian rhetoric to spike their dander.
But no. Maybe things are too sophisticated now (with all due respect) to summon beaches and blitzes. Instead I’m picturing Bayliss sweetly leading some cute visualisations or planting some very shrewd plans – calmly.
Rooty and Stokesy will bring the chirpiness and the spunk. Cooky will absent himself from all the banter… and let his batting do the talking. But you knew all that. Like me you know loads of stuff about the Ashes.
So let me finish with a question to you.
Could it be that positivity from England might stun or even bring down the rampaging beast that was/is Aussie cricket?
I’m in the ‘Gawd Only Knows’ camp on that one.